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Overheard in GenForum: Average Time Before Naturalization
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

September 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: An immigrant from Ireland is naturalized in Boston in 1868. What might be the average time between arrival in the USA assuming Boston, and naturalization proceedings? -- Edward

A: Not surprising, the laws and acts that determine who was naturalized and when and how it took place have changed over the years. Some of those changes were directly related to various influxes of large numbers of individuals of a specific ethnic origin. Others have been related directly to the large number of people flocking to what they thought was the new world.

Naturalization records were begun in 1790 by an act of Congress. The act was passed on 26 Mar 1790. It made it possible for any free white person over the age of 21 who had been in the United States for 2 years to be granted citizenship.

The Constitution of the United States is where Congress gets its power to establish rules for naturalization.

Important Dates in Naturalization

Through the years there have been additional acts passed by Congress that have affected the naturalization process:

DATE Changes
1798 Declaration of Intention needed 5 years before citizenship; residence of 14 years
1802 Declaration of Intention needed 3 years before citizenship; residence of 5 years; children automatically citizens when parents were naturalized
1824 Children of foreign birth who had lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years could be naturalized on their 21st birthday.
1888 Law allowing the expulsion of aliens was passed
1906 The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization created, and records are centralized.
1922 Alien women who were married to US citizens could apply for naturalization after one year of residency.
1924 The National Origins Act - first immigration quota law
1952 The Immigration and Naturalization Act passed.

These are just a few of the milestones over the years that affect naturalization.

The Naturalization Process

Prior to 1906 the naturalization process was not centralized. What this means for you is that the records could be in different localities, especially if he moved around.

It is likely that he waited five years before applying for his Declaration of Intent. This would be the first record to try to find.

Many of these records may have been centralized in the closest National Archives branch to where your ancestor lived and was archived. Many of these records have been microfilmed. It would be a good idea to stop by your local Family History Center.

If your ancestor may have moved around, then you will want to check at the county courthouse for each locality he may have lived in.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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